Sophie Hannah's poetry collections include Hotels Like Houses (Carcanet 1996); The Hero and The Girl Next Door (Carcanet 1995); Second Helping of Your Heart (Frogmore Press 1994); Early Bird Blues (Smith/Doorstop 1993); and Carrot the Goldfish (Hamish Hamilton 1992).
I was the writer in residence for the Leeds City Voices Festival in June this year, and was commissioned to write a collection of poems for, and inspired by, Leeds. As soon as I agreed to the commission, I knew what the first poem I would write was going to be. It was something I'd wanted to write ever since I had moved to Leeds from Cambridge a few months earlier. It's a poem called 'You Won't Find a Bath in Leeds', and it's a revenge poem about a lettings agent my boyfriend and I dealt with when we first moved to Leeds. He actually tried to convince us that we would never find a flat with a bath in it, and to settle for one that only had a shower.
I completed the poem quite quickly, and then found the others much more difficult. As someone who had only lived in the region for a few months, I felt I hardly knew it. I also wasn't sure how I felt about the move, because I'd been very happy living in Cambridge and, forced to move somewhere else, my first choice would have been Berkshire. So the next two poems I wrote were about living in Leeds and wanting to live in Berkshire.
The commission had a time-scale of several months, and pretty soon my attitude to my new home had changed. The fourth poem I wrote, 'Long for this World', is about the way people get attached to places and then have to leave them. I think I would have written these poems anyway, somehow, even without the commission or the poetry placement.
From the River Cam and the A14
To the Aire and the tall M1,
We left the place where home had been,
Still wondering what we'd done,
And we went to Yorkshire, undeterred
By the hearts we'd left down South
And we couldn't believe the words we heard
From the lettings agent's mouth.
He showed us a flat near an abbatoir
Then one where a man had died
Then one with nowhere to park our car
Then one with no bath inside.
With the undertone of cheering
Of a person who impedes,
He looked straight at us, sneeering,
'You won't find a bath in Leeds'.
'We have come to Leeds from Cambridge.
We have heard that Leeds is nice.
A bath is seen in Cambridge
As an integral device,
So don't tell me that a shower
Is sufficient to meet my needs,'
I said. I received a glower
And 'You won't find a bath in Leeds'.
He fingered a fraying curtain
And I said, 'You can't be sure.
Some things in life are uncertain
And that's what hope is for.
One day I might meet Robert Redford
At Bristol Temple Meads.
I've found baths in Bracknell and Bedford
And I might find a bath in Leeds.'
He replied with a refutation
Which served to increase our pain
But we didn't head for the station
Or run for a rescue train,
Though we felt like trampled flowers
Who'd been set upon by weeds.
We told him to stuff his showers
And we would find a bath in Leeds.
Some people are snide and scathing
And they try to undermine
Your favourite form of bathing
Or the way you write a line.
At night, while you're busy praying
That your every plan succeeds,
There are killjoys somewhere saying,
'You won't find a bath in Leeds'.
A better definition
Might be reading all of Proust,
But the concept of ambition
Has been radically reduced.
While the London wits are burning
Their cash in the Groucho club,
In Yorkshire we're simply yearning
To locate an enamel tub.
I win, Mr Bath Bad Tidings.
I have not one bath but two.
En-suite in the sweet West Ridings
And no bloody thanks to you.
I may never run fast, or tower
Over Wimbledon's top seeds
Or hit sixes like David Gower
But I have found a bath in Leeds.
I settle for less than snow,
try to go gracefully like seasons go
which will regain their ground -
ditch, hill and field - when a new year comes round.
Now I know everything:
how winter leaves without resenting spring,
lives in a safe time frame,
gives up so much but knows he can reclaim
all titles that are his,
fall out for months and still be what he is.
I settle for less than snow:
high only once, then no way up from low,
then to be swept from drives.
Ten words I throw into your changing lives
fly like ten snowballs hurled:
I hope to be, and will, long for this world.